Gun vi­o­lence again at cen­ter stage in Har­ris­burg

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Ford Turner

HAR­RIS­BURG — One said a new “red flag” law on gun own­er­ship could save lives.

The other said laws don’t stop crim­i­nals.

They were two snip­pets of the tes­ti­mony pre­sented in a Wed­nes­day Penn­syl­va­nia Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee pub­lic hear­ing on gun-re­lated is­sues. It came af­ter a di­vi­sive Tues­day in Har­ris­burg when Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf chas­tised a Repub­li­can com­mit­tee chair­man for cre­at­ing a “block­ade” to what Wolf de­scribed as widely sup­ported anti-gun vi­o­lence pro­pos­als.

The back-to-back days of gun dis­cus­sions came dur­ing the first full week that both cham­bers of the Gen­eral Assem­bly were back in Har­ris­burg fol­low­ing a sum­mer break — a break that was filled with na­tional and lo­cal sto­ries about gun vi­o­lence.

“I know in your heart you know that all the laws on the books aren’t go­ing to stop crim­i­nals from com­mit­ting crim­i­nal acts,” Joshua Prince, an at­tor­ney whose clien­tele in­cludes gun own­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers, said dur­ing the Wed­nes­day hear­ing.

His com­ment was di­rected at Sen. Lawrence Far­nese Jr., a Philadel­phia Demo­crat and mi­nor­ity chair of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. Far­nese had cited an in­stance where an AR-15 had wound up in the hands of a crim­i­nal via sales that could have been pre­vented by an ex­panded back­ground check law.

The next speaker, Adam Sk­aggs, chief coun­sel and pol­icy di­rec­tor at Gif­fords Law Cen­ter, said Penn­syl­va­nia could save lives by pass­ing a so-called “red flag” law.

Seven­teen states and the Dis­trict of Columbia have adopted such laws, which al­low judges to tem­po­rar­ily re­voke the rights to buy or pos­sess guns of peo­ple deemed dan­ger­ous, Sk­aggs said.

“These are tem­po­rary pro­hi­bi­tions in na­ture and not per­ma­nent,” said Sk­aggs. Some­times, the re­moval of gun-own­ing rights lasts less than a year.

A “red flag” pro­posal sponsored by state Repub­li­can Rep. Todd Stephens of Mont­gomery County failed to move for­ward in the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee on Tues­day.

On Wed­nes­day, three Le­high Val­ley law­mak­ers — Demo­crat Reps. Mike Schloss­berg and Pete Sch­weyer and Repub­li­can Sen. Pat Browne — spoke in fa­vor of red flag laws.

“It has the po­ten­tial to save lives,” Schloss­berg said. He said he would sup­port “par­lia­men­tary tac­tics” to get around the com­mit­tee stop­page and bring a red flag bill to the full House.

His­tor­i­cally, Sch­weyer said, many gun crimes in Al­len­town are re­lated to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. A red flag law, he said, would work to keep guns out of the hands of peo­ple who are emo­tion­ally dis­traught from bad do­mes­tic sit­u­a­tions.

Browne said red flag leg­is­la­tion should be se­ri­ously con­sid­ered be­cause gov­ern­ment has a “com­pelling in­ter­est” to pro­tect cit­i­zens.

Wolf pre­vi­ously said he saw pro­pos­als to ex­pand back­ground checks and im­ple­ment red flag pro­hi­bi­tions as com­mon sense and hav­ing wide­spread sup­port. His “block­ade” crit­i­cism Tues­day was di­rected at Repub­li­can House Ju­di­ciary Chair­man Rob Kauff­man of Franklin County.

In an in­ter­view Wed­nes­day, Kauff­man said the gover­nor was “flat wrong” and merely giv­ing par­ti­san talk­ing points.

The red flag pro­posal, he said, is “re­ally an anti-gun push.”

In­stead, Kauff­man said, more at­ten­tion should be paid to a bill of Kauff­man’s that would re­quire peo­ple who are in­vol­un­tar­ily com­mit­ted to a men­tal health fa­cil­ity to sur­ren­der any firearms within 48 hours of re­lease.

Cur­rent law, Kauff­man said, al­lows the sur­ren­der­ing of firearms by such in­di­vid­u­als to stretch out over 60 days. The bill was ap­proved by the com­mit­tee in a unan­i­mous vote on Tues­day.

Kauff­man said his bill in­volves both gun safety and a “tried and true” as­pect of the men­tal health sys­tem, the in­vol­un­tary com­mit­ment.

A spokesman for Wolf, J.J. Ab­bott, said Wed­nes­day that Wolf ’s com­ment about a “block­ade” was in re­sponse to a Tues­day state­ment by Kauff­man, who said, “We don’t have any in­ten­tion of ad­dress­ing fur­ther gun con­trol mea­sures this ses­sion.”

Morn­ing Call re­porter Ford Turner can be reached at 717-7837305 or [email protected] The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted to this re­port

FORD TURNER/THE MORN­ING CALL

Mem­bers of the Penn­syl­va­nia Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day lis­ten to tes­ti­mony on gun-re­lated is­sues.

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